Lawyers think Mesquite woman should face charges

Police should bring criminal charges against the Mesquite woman who falsely accused two Dallas Cowboys of rape just to demonstrate publicly that false rape reports will not be tolerated, lawyers and prosecutors said Friday night.

At the same time, Michael Irvin and Erik Williams probably have a civil defamation claim against the woman, but such a lawsuit is highly unlikely, they said.

But no matter what happens next, legal experts said Friday night's surprise disclosure could have a negative impact on rape reporting and prosecutions for years to come in Dallas and across the country.

While Dallas police said that they are considering charging Nina Shahravan with filing a false police report, lawyers say the decision should be easy.

"Absolutely you charge her," said former Dallas County prosecutor Dan Hagood. "Her admission is enough probable cause to arrest her. If I were district attorney, there's no doubt I would prosecute her for this, just to send the message that this kind of thing will not go unpunished."

Former Dallas federal prosecutor Tom Melsheimer said the decision on whether to charge Ms. Shahravan depends upon her motivation in making the false report.

"If she is simply an off-the-wall person who needs psychiatric counseling, then I think the police have to chalk it up to experience," he said. "But if it was malicious or if she was just trying to smear their reputations or trying to extort money from them, then there is no question, she should be prosecuted."

Making a false police report is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Ms. Shahravan declined to comment Friday.

Lawyers for Mr. Williams and Mr. Irvin say they are considering their own legal actions against Ms. Shahravan in the form of a civil defamation case.

"We're keeping all of our options open," said Peter Ginsberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Mr. Williams.

Mr. Ginsberg said that "absolutely, unequivocally" there was no deal between the football players and Ms. Shahravan that led to her recanting. He said he has had no contact with his client's accuser.

While it might be easy to prove in court that Ms. Shahravan defamed Mr. Williams and Mr. Irvin, legal experts say it's doubtful either man would sue her.

"When you file a libel lawsuit, you are throwing your entire life open for investigation and dissection," Mr. Melsheimer said. "I do not believe that either of these men are interested in having every aspect of their personal lives becoming front-page news. I think they and their lawyers will decide that it's best for them to publicly declare their innocence and move on."

Because Dallas police were simply investigating a complaint filed by the woman and did not originate it on their own, they are not open to being sued for civil rights violations, lawyers said.

"This is not the Richard Jewell case where law enforcement targeted the suspect," said Tom Charron, president of the National College of District Attorneys. "Dallas police did not pick Michael Irvin as the suspect. All they did was follow up on a very serious allegation."

But Mr. Charron, a prosecutor in Atlanta, said Ms. Shahravan's false allegation will harm legitimate rape cases across the country for years to come.

"I cannot tell you how much damage this does in our efforts to have rape allegations taken seriously by the courts and the public," he said. "Rape charges are already tough enough to prove. This kind of high-profile incident makes it even harder."

Mr. Charron said this case shows that police and prosecutors must be very careful to find corroborating evidence to support rape accusations.

"The horror of this incident is that it reinforces that widely held notion that many rapes are exaggerated or do not happen," Mr. Melsheimer said. "In reality, there are very few false rape accusations."

By Mark Curriden / The Dallas Morning News